Oct 17 2008

Compulsory Wi-Fi

New study shows Wi-Fi nets are essential for higher education.

Students don’t take a college or university seriously unless there is significant — and free — Wi-Fi access on campus, according to a new study by an industry group.

In late September, the WiFi Alliance, which tests and certifies Wi-Fi equipment, along with consumer research firm Wakefield Research, asked about 500 students at universities and colleges in the United States how important Wi-Fi access is to their college experience.

From the sampling, it appears that it’s very important. Nearly three in five said they wouldn’t attend a college that doesn’t have free Wi-Fi access. Nine in 10 said the technology is as fundamental to their education as classrooms and computers.

Students said the technology must be available widely around campus, from dorms, to study lounges, classrooms and public areas. They weren’t asked which of those areas is considered more important, says Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director for the Alliance. She suspects that an even sprinkling of access points everywhere around campus is probably what they’re looking for.

Fifty-five percent of undergraduate respondents said they logged on from coffee shops or restaurants on campus, while 47 percent said they had logged on from parks and 24 percent said they logged on from their cars.

Wireless access serves a growing number of applications. Half of the students surveyed said they had watched a class lecture online from someplace other than their dorm room, presumably from common areas around campus. “Wi-Fi access has to be fairly ubiquitous around campus,” says Felner-Davis, because students access the network for a growing number of social and academic reasons.

The study also infers that the growing use of wireless networks and other types of technology are transforming or even canceling out traditional college facilities. For instance, the study said students see libraries as a hub for accessing applications wirelessly and not necessarily as a source for books. About 40 percent, or two in five students in the survey, think their traditional libraries would be better used as an “Internet lounge.” Sixty-three percent said they thought their library building could be put to better use overall.

Notebook computer access seemed to be the most popular means of using campus Wi-Fi networks, she says, although some users are trying different means. “We had about 43 people say they had used mobile handsets to access a campus Wi-Fi network.”